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Pictured left to right outside the new store are: Paul Hardwick, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents Director of Retail; Emma Bailey, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents; Tutti Taylor, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents; Councillor Candy Vaughan, Mayor of Eastbourne; Trevor Ridler, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents Business Development Manager; and Shirley Waters, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents..

Increasing knowledge & broadening horizons at the CLIA Annual Conference

May 2024 saw the annual Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) UK Conference in Southampton, and several members of staff from Fred. Olsen Travel branches had the fantastic opportunity to attend and broaden their product knowledge across the ocean, river, and specialty cruise operators in attendance. CLIA is the world's largest cruise industry trade association, supporting policies and practices to foster a secure, sustainable cruise ship industry that delivers positive travel experiences to the 30 million+ passengers who cruise annually. The Conference was a three-day event, featuring a series of talks and presentations, followed by onboard tours of a selection of ships that were docked in Southampton ready to receive them.

“The first part of the conference was the industry session including a mixture of talks, Q&A’s and panels with cruise operators and special guests,” explains Sian from our Eastbourne branch. “A big point of interest were the statistics given at the beginning of the conference relating to the cruise industry. This showed that over the last year, 31.7 million people cruised worldwide, and 71% of people who haven’t cruised before would be interested in setting sail. This shows not only how popular cruising is as a holiday option, but the massive potential the industry has in getting new cruisers onboard.”

Rosie from our Framlingham branch picked out another key fact from these presentations, “I found the intent to cruise section particularly fascinating, with figures that surprised me: one being that 36% of cruisers are under 40.” Figures like this challenge the preconceptions of the typical cruise customer and demonstrate how the industry is evolving.  Another area of the cruise industry that is expanding is solo travel, “Riviera Travel has 67 solo river cruises departing next year,” noted Fleur from our Beccles branch, “This shows how operators aim to become more inclusive to a wider range of customers going forward.”

Nirmal Saverimuttu, CEO of Virgin Voyages, gave an interesting talk about the brand’s journey, from the issues they faced as a new operator within the sector upon their launch in 2020, to having recently won Best Premium Cruise Company in the Travel Weekly Awards 2024.

It wasn’t all hard facts and figures though, “I found Jeff Corwin’s talk very interesting,” says Natasha from our Lymington branch, “He is a renowned wildlife biologist and Princess Cruises’ Nature and Adventure Ambassador. He spoke about his experiences seeing brown bears in their natural habitat in Alaska.” Framlingham’s Rosie particularly enjoyed another presentation from a celebrity special guest, “Harry Judd who took part in Celebrity Race Around the World gave us an insight into his experience on the show, which helped give destination knowledge and kept things more casual and light-hearted for that part of the conference.”

Later that afternoon there was a Networking Trade Fair which had over 100 companies available for more personal chats as delegates circulated around their stands. “I preferred this session over the Conference because you got the chance to ask questions that are relevant for your own needs,” explains Sarah from our Ipswich branch. Companies had literature to take away and peruse at leisure, plus some fun competitions and games. “It was interesting to visit stalls of operators I’m familiar with, but also those who I’m yet to work with” says Sian, who also believes the Conference has helped her consider her own career development, “I found it helpful when it comes to researching and finding a niche in the travel industry that I would like to specialise in going forward.”

The second day saw a choice of tours onboard several cruise ships docked at Southampton. Delegates could choose two each to visit, and Cunard’s brand-new ship Queen Anne was a popular choice to look around - she is their first new ship in 14 years and had her maiden voyage in May this year. After a delicious lunch served in the Britannia restaurant, Rosie enjoyed looking around this majestic ship “We had the chance to wander round the public areas at our own pace, viewing the Spa and other wonderful restaurants. The Queen Anne was beautiful, very regal looking inside but with a neutral, airy colour scheme which made the ship feel large and spacious. The theatre crew performed excerpts of their new shows which were mesmerizing to witness.”

Enjoying Cunard's show

“I loved The Pavilion,” says Natasha, “this is an indoor pool with a retractable roof, and styled in 1920s Art Deco, which looks absolutely stunning. Actually seeing the Queen Anne will help me sell cruises onboard more confidently. From the different eateries to the Golden Lion Pub and the Royal Court Theatre, there is something onboard for everyone.”

Airy public spaces on Iona

Kit from our Thorpe branch found his visit onboard P&O’s second newest ship, Iona, challenged his preconceptions, “We started from the top of the ship down, exploring all that Iona had to offer and I was pleasantly surprised on Iona’s class and elegance. I had the misconception before visiting, that P&O, being more of an affordable cruise, may have had made some compromises and look less prestigious. Far from it! I can now honestly say that I think P&O, looks and facilities-wise, are just as good as their sister brands of Cunard and Princess. The facilities were great and prices are affordable. I can now see why P&O is very popular.” Rosie also toured Iona and totally agrees, “Everything appeared to be so sleek, and I was in awe at the outdoor areas, especially the adult only area with its beautiful pool on the aft of the ship. The staff onboard were super friendly and accommodating, the service was prompt and the food was scrumptious! It exceeded all my expectations and had some beautiful pool facilities, restaurants and plenty of space for those that don’t like being in crowded places.”

Lunch onboard Iona

Sarah, Natasha & Fleur from our Beccles branch chose to visit Fred Olsen Cruise’s Borealis. For her small size, Borealis certainly packed a punch for Sarah, “I had this perception that Borealis would be small with not much to do onboard and feel like it is more for older people. I was mesmerised by how big Borealis is inside with all the different bars, restaurants, lounges and much more. The ship doesn’t look big from the outside, but wow does it certainly fill it’s space inside. Every corner we went round you walked into a room that was just full of space, I couldn’t believe it.”

Borealis' stunning atrium

“They had different interactive activities for us as we travelled around the ship,” says Fleur, “The first one that we got to experience was a silent disco in the Ocean Bar, we were given different coloured headphones which played different genres of music. The views from the Ocean Bar were incredible. The Olsen Art Studio is another amazing asset to the ship and allows passengers to engage with other people who have the same passion as each other.”

Grooving (quietly) at the Silent Disco on Borealis

For Natasha the visit will be particularly useful, “I have guests going on this ship soon. This gives me the chance answer my customers questions and report back to them. It also helps me to define the differences between Borealis & Bolette.”

Visiting Silver Dawn

Sian selected Silversea’s Silver Dawn for a visit, “I hadn’t had the opportunity to go onboard a luxury cruise ship until now and was interested to see how they set themselves apart from other operators.” She enjoyed a talk by Peter Shanks, the managing director of Silversea, “His informative talk detailed the Silversea fleet, popular destinations they visit, helpful selling tips and the highlights of sailing with Silversea. We were then split into groups and given a tour of the Silver Dawn. I was pleasantly surprised by how spacious not only every cabin grade was, but also the corridors and connecting areas. Following the tour of the cabins, we were shown communal areas including the theatre lounge, bars and restaurants. Highlights included seeing the S.A.L.T Bar and S.A.L.T Lab, two areas offering something a little different when it comes to local cuisine. We also saw the OTIUM spa, a state-of-the-art area of relaxation for those looking to sail in ultimate comfort and luxury. Our tour ended in the Panorama Lounge where we were given a canape lunch and champagne to end the visit.”

An atmospheric bar onboard Silver Dawn

The third and final day of the conference saw the second session of ship visits. Here Sian opted for MSC’s Virtuosa, “We were shown the many communal areas, bars, lounges, restaurants, kids and sports facilities. We were also informed about the luxury Yacht Club experience and the perks clients get for booking this. I was very impressed by the spa onboard; it was incredibly inviting and provided a lot of space to accommodate the large number of people onboard who may wish to use it. The tour of Virtuosa ended with a three-course lunch. I thought the food was just perfect, the service from the staff was outstanding and they went beyond what I’d expected from them.”

The most delicious welcome onboard Virtuosa!

Overall attending the Conference provided a fantastic learning opportunity for our staff. The presentations and networking sessions revealed new insights into who will be enjoying cruising in the future, and the differentiation between the many operators who strive to deliver perfect individual onboard experiences. “A selling tip I will use going forward is to take the time to understand what new cruisers are looking for when enquiring about cruising for the first time,” says Sian, “As there are so many options, and all the operators offer something different, it’s easy to ask for their desired destination and suggest from there. With guests spending so much time around the ship, it’s important to match them to one that has what they’re looking for, particularly with multi-generation and older clients. I feel that I now have a good understanding of what the major operators provide, and I’m keen to continue expanding my cruise product knowledge, to allow me to confidently match different clients’ needs to the right holiday for them.”

Not only did the Conference improve greater knowledge of the big industry operators, it also highlighted some of the smaller, more niche cruise lines that staff were less acquainted with, “It has given me the chance to request virtual training from tour operators that I’m not quite so familiar with – such as Azamara,” agrees Rosie.

The actual tours around the ships have been invaluable for Kit, “Overall this was a very positive experience that will enable me to have a better understanding of what I am trying to sell while being able to tell our customers first-hand what the ships are like and what they each have to offer.” Natasha agrees that these insights are so useful “This trip has increased my confidence on selling cruises – being able to visualise the ship and see it in person has made all the difference in taking in the atmosphere and even answering some of my own personal queries surrounding cruising.”

Our staff returned to their branches, bringing back a wealth of insight into the cruise industry, better enabling them to deliver their customers’ cruising dreams going forward. Whether these are seasoned sailors looking for new adventures; tentative first-time cruisers; couples looking for a romantic getaway; families holidaying with children and grandparents; or solos making new friends as they explore independently, this dynamic and ever-changing industry has a cruise line that is perfect to fulfil their needs. Contact your local branch and get onboard!